Friday, September 1, 2017

Veronica Lake

    Veronica Lake (November 14, 1922 – July 7, 1973) was an American film, stage, and television actress. Lake won both popular and critical acclaim, most notably for her role in Sullivan's Travels and for her femme fatale roles in film noirs with Alan Ladd, during the 1940s. She was also well known for her peek-a-boo hairstyle. By the late 1940s however, Lake's career had begun to decline in part due to her alcoholism. She made only one film in the 1950s but appeared in several guest-starring roles on television. She returned to the screen in 1966 with a role in the film Footsteps In the Snow, but the role failed to revitalize her career.

    Lake released her memoirs, Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake, in 1970. She used the money she made from the book to finance a low-budget horror film Flesh Feast. It was her final onscreen role. Lake died in July 1973 from hepatitis and acute kidney injury at the age of 50.

    Lake was born Constance Frances Marie Ockelman in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. Her father, Harry Eugene Ockelman, was of German and Irish descent, and worked for an oil company aboard a ship. He died in an industrial explosion in Philadelphia in 1932. Lake's mother, Constance Frances Charlotta (née Trimble; 1902–1992), of Irish descent, married Anthony Keane, a newspaper staff artist, also of Irish descent, in 1933, and Lake began using his surname. The Keanes lived in Saranac Lake, New York, where young Lake attended St. Bernard's School for a time, then was sent to Villa Maria, an all-girls Catholic boarding school in Montreal, Canada, from which she was expelled. Lake later claimed she attended McGill University and did a premed course for a year, intending to become a surgeon. With this being included in many press biographies (although she later declared her claim was a fabrication), Lake felt guilty and subsequently apologized to the president of McGill who was simply amused when she explained her habit of self-dramatizing. But when her father fell ill during her second year, the Keane family later moved to Miami, Florida. Lake attended Miami High School, where she was known for her beauty. She had a troubled childhood and was diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to her mother.
    In 1938, the Keanes moved to Beverly Hills, where Lake enrolled in the Bliss-Hayden School of Acting (now the Beverly Hills Playhouse). She made friends with a girl called Gwen Horn, and accompanied her when Horn went to audition at RKO. She was briefly contracted to MGM and studied at that studio's acting farm, the Bliss Hayden theatre. She appeared in the play Thought for Food in January 1939. In She Made Her Bed, the theatre critic from the Los Angeles Times called her "a fetching little trick".
    She also appeared as an extra in a number of movies. Keane's first appearance on screen was for RKO, playing a small role among several coeds in the film Sorority House (1939). The part wound up being cut out of the film but she was encouraged to continue. Similar roles followed, including All Women Have Secrets, Young as Your Feel, Forty Little Mothers and Dancing Co-Ed. Forty Little Mothers was the first time she let her hair down on screen.
    She attracted the interest of Fred Wilcox, an assistant director, who shot a test scene of Lake performing from a play and showed it to an agent. The agent in turn showed it to producer Arthur Hornblow Jr. who was looking for a new girl to play the part of a nightclub singer in a military drama, I Wanted Wings (1940). Still in her teens, the role would make her a star. It was Hornblow who changed her name to Veronica Lake. According to him, her eyes, "calm and clear like a blue lake", were the deciding factor in her new name.
    It was during the filming of I Wanted Wings that Lake developed her signature look. Lake's long blonde hair accidentally fell over her right eye during a take and created a "peek-a-boo" effect. "I was playing a sympathetic drunk, I had my arm on a table... it slipped... and my hair- it was always baby fine and had this natural break- fell over my face... It became my trademark and purely by accident", she recalled.
    I Wanted Wings was a big hit, The hairstyle became Lake's trademark and was widely copied by women.
    Even before the film came out, Lake was dubbed "the find of 1941". However Lake did not think this meant she would have a long career and maintained her goal was to be a surgeon. "Only the older actors keep on a long time ... I don't want to hang on after I've reached a peak. I'll go back to medical school", she said. Paramount announced two follow up movies, China Pass and Blonde Venus. Instead, Lake was cast in Sullivan's Travels for Preston Sturges with Joel McCrea. She had been six months pregnant when filming began.
    Paramount put her in a thriller, This Gun for Hire (1942); her love interest was Robert Preston but she shared more scenes with Alan Ladd and the two of them would be so popular together they would be reteamed in lead roles for three more films. Both had cameos in Star Spangled Rhythm (1942), an all-star Paramount movie.
    She was meant to be reunited with McCrea in another comedy, I Married a Witch, (also 1942) produced by Sturges, and directed by René Clair, but McCrea refused to act with her again, reportedly saying "Life's too short for two films with Veronica Lake". Production was delayed, enabling Lake to be reunited with Ladd in The Glass Key (again 1942), replacing Patricia Morison. The male lead in I Married a Witch was eventually played by Fredric March and the resulting movie, like The Glass Key, was successful at the box-office. René Clair, the director of I Married a Witch, said of Lake "She was a very gifted girl, but she didn't believe she was gifted."
    Lake was meant to co-star with Charles Boyer in Hong Kong for Arthur Hornblow, but it was not made. She received acclaim for her part as a suicidal nurse in So Proudly We Hail! (1943). At the peak of her popularity, she earned $4,500 a week.
    Although popular with the public, Lake had a complex personality and acquired a reputation for being difficult to work with. Eddie Bracken, her co-star in Star Spangled Rhythm, in which Lake appeared in a musical number, was quoted as saying, "She was known as 'The Bitch' and she deserved the title." (However, Lake and McCrea did make another film together, the 1947 production Ramrod.) During filming of The Blue Dahlia (1946), screenwriter Raymond Chandler referred to her as "Moronica Lake".
    During World War II, Lake changed her trademark peek-a-boo hairstyle at the urging of the government to encourage women working in war industry factories to adopt more practical, safer hairstyles. Although the change helped to decrease accidents involving women getting their hair caught in machinery, doing so may have damaged Lake's career. She also became a popular pin-up girl for soldiers during World War II and traveled throughout the United States to raise money for war bonds.
    In June 1944, Lake appeared at a war bond drive in Boston, where her services as a dishwasher were auctioned off. She also performed in a revue, with papers saying her "talk was on the grim side". Hedda Hopper later claimed this appearance was responsible for Paramount giving her the third lead in Out of this World, supporting Diana Lynn, saying "Lake clipped her own wings in her Boston bond appearance... It's lucky for Lake, after Boston, that she isn't out of pictures".
    Lake's career faltered with her unsympathetic role as Nazi spy Dora Bruckman in The Hour Before the Dawn (1944). Scathing reviews of The Hour Before the Dawn included criticism of her unconvincing German accent. She had begun drinking more heavily during this period, and a growing number of people refused to work with her. Lake had a number of months off work, during which time she lost a child and was divorced. She was brought back in Bring on the Girls (1945), Lake's first proper musical (although she had sung in This Gun for Hire and Star Spangled Rhythm). There were two more movies with Bracken, Out of This World and Hold That Blonde (both also 1945).
    Lake then made two films produced by John Houseman, Miss Susie Slagle's and The Blue Dahlia (both 1946). While waiting for the films to be released in 1945, she took stock of her career claiming, "I had to learn about acting. I've played all sorts of parts, taken just what came along regardless of high merit. In fact, I've been a sort of general utility person. I haven't liked all the roles. One or two were pretty bad".
    One role Lake really liked was Hold That Blonde (1945), supporting Eddie Bracken(in a part turned down by Bob Hope). "It's a comedy, rather like what Carole Lombard used to do ... It represents a real change of pace". She thought she had a good part in The Blue Dahlia.
Lake expressed interest in renegotiating her deal with Paramount:

    The studio feels that way about it too. They have indicated they are going to fuss more about the pictures in which I appear. I think I'll enjoy being fussed about... I want this to be the turning point and I think that it will. I am free and clear of unpleasant characters, unless they are strongly justified. I've had a varied experience playing them and also appearing as heroines. The roles themselves haven't been noteworthy and sometimes not even especially spotlighted, but I think they've all been beneficial in one way or another. From here on there should be a certain pattern of development, and that is what I am going to fight for if necessary, though I don't believe it will be because they are so understanding here at Paramount.
    She made her first film outside Paramount since she became a star, a Western, Ramrod (1947), directed by her then-husband Andre DeToth, which reunited her with Joel McCrea, despite his earlier reservation. Back at her home studio she had a cameo in Variety Girl (1947) then was united with Ladd for the last time in Saigon (1948), in which she returned to her former peek-a-boo hairstyle; the movie was not particularly well received. Neither was a romantic drama, Isn't It Romantic (also 1948) or a comedy The Sainted Sisters (1948). In 1948 Paramount decided not to renew Lake's contract.
    Lake moved to 20th Century Fox to make Slattery's Hurricane (1949), directed by DeToth. It was only a support role and there were not many other offers. In 1950 it was announced she and DeToth would make Before I Wake (from a suspense novel by Mel Devrett) and Flanagan Boy. Neither was made. She appeared in Stronghold (1951), which she later described as "a dog", an independent production from Lippert Pictures shot in Mexico. (She later sued for unpaid wages on the film.) Lake and DeToth filed for bankruptcy that same year.
    The IRS later seized their home for unpaid taxes. On the verge of a nervous breakdown and bankrupt, Lake ran away, left DeToth, and flew alone to New York.
    In the summer of 1951, she was fed up; two marriages had failed, and she was typecast in Hollywood as a sex symbol. As a result of her disillusionment with Hollywood and not liking what it did with people, she walked out on Hollywood, took her three children, and headed to New York to restart her career. Lake wanted to leave her sexy image behind, and New York offered the opportunity to work in theater and the new medium, television.

    "They said, 'She'll be back in a couple of months'", recalled Lake. "Well I never returned. Enough was enough already. Did I want to be one of the walking dead or a real person?"
    She performed in summer stock and in stage roles in England. In October 1955, she collapsed in Detroit, where she had been appearing on stage in The Little Hut.
    After her third divorce, Lake drifted between cheap hotels in New York City, and was arrested several times for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. In 1962, a New York Post reporter found her living at the all-women's Martha Washington Hotel in Manhattan, working as a waitress downstairs in the cocktail lounge. She was working under the name "Connie de Toth". Lake said she took the job in part because "I like people. I like to talk to them".
    The reporter's widely distributed story led to speculation that Lake was destitute. After the story ran, fans of Lake sent her money which she returned as "a matter of pride". Lake vehemently denied that she was destitute and stated, "It's as though people were making me out to be down-and-out. I wasn't. I was paying $190 a month rent then, and that's a long way from being broke". The story did revive some interest in Lake and led to some television and stage appearances, most notably in the 1963 off-Broadway revival of the musical Best Foot Forward.
    In 1966, she had a brief stint as a TV hostess in Baltimore, Maryland, along with a largely ignored film role in Footsteps In the Snow. She also continued appearing in stage roles. She went to Freeport in the Bahamas to visit a friend and ended up living there for a few years.
    Lake's memoirs, Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake, which she dictated to the writer Donald Bain, were published in the United Kingdom in 1969, and in the United States the following year. In the book, Lake discusses her career, her failed marriages, her romances with Howard Hughes, Tommy Manville and Aristotle Onassis, her alcoholism, and her guilt over not spending enough time with her children. In the book, Lake stated to Bain that her mother pushed her into a career as an actress. Bain quoted Lake, looking back at her career, as saying, "I never did cheesecake like Ann Sheridan or Betty Grable. I just used my hair". She also laughed off the term "sex symbol" and instead referred to herself as a "sex zombie".
    When she went to the UK to promote her book in 1969 she received an offer to appear on stage in Madam Chairman. Also in 1969, Lake essayed the role of Blanche DuBois in a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire on the English stage, for which she won rave reviews for her performance. With the proceeds from her autobiography, after she had divided them with Bain, she co-produced and starred in her final film, Flesh Feast (1970), a low-budget horror movie with a Nazi-myth storyline.
    Lake then moved to Ipswich, England, where she met and married Royal Navy captain Robert Carleton-Munro, in June 1972. The marriage lasted just one year and Lake returned to the United States in June 1973. She went to the Virgin Islands to await her divorce decree when she fell ill.
    After purchasing an airplane for her husband, Andre DeToth, Lake earned her pilot's license in 1946. She later flew solo between Los Angeles and New York when leaving him.
    Lake's first marriage was to art director John S. Detlie, in 1940. They had a daughter, Elaine (born in 1941), and a son, Anthony (born July 8, 1943). According to news from the time, Lake's son was born prematurely after she tripped on a lighting cable while filming a movie. Anthony died on July 15, 1943. Lake and Detlie separated in August 1943 and divorced in December 1943. In 1944, Lake married film director Andre DeToth with whom she had a son, Andre Anthony Michael III (known as Michael DeToth), and a daughter, Diana (born October 1948). Days before Diana's birth, Lake's mother sued her for support payments. Lake and DeToth divorced in 1952.
    In September 1955, she married songwriter Joseph Allan McCarthy. They were divorced in 1959. Lake's fourth and final marriage was to Royal Navy captain Robert Carleton-Munro in June 1972. They divorced after one year. In 1969, she revealed that she rarely saw her children.
    In June 1973, Lake returned to the United States and while traveling in Vermont, visited a local doctor, complaining of stomach pains. She was discovered to have cirrhosis of the liver as a result of her years of drinking, and on June 26, she checked into the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.
    She died there on July 7, 1973, of acute hepatitis and acute kidney injury. Her son Michael claimed her body. Lake's memorial service was held at the Universal Chapel in New York City on July 11.
    She was cremated and, according to her wishes, her ashes were scattered off the coast of the Virgin Islands. In 2004, some of Lake's ashes were reportedly found in a New York antique store.
    For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Lake has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6918 Hollywood Boulevard.

No comments: